Rudyard Kipling Questions and Answers

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What techniques does the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling use to get his message across?

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Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

bookM.A. from Clemson University


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I think the other educators have given some excellent instruction in the poetic devices in this poem, so I want to offer just a few more things.

First, I think it's important when determining how poetic devices contribute to an overall message to begin with the overall message itself. So what is Kipling trying to convey here? His core message is that in spite of life being tough, it's possible to live a better life by persevering and remaining true to your core values.

So how does he build that message through poetic techniques? One additional way he accomplishes this is through the poem's tone. The speaker takes a firmly encouraging stance to push the listener (a younger man, whether "son" is literal or more symbolically used) into doing hard things. Don't lie. Don't hate. Don't pretend to have wisdom that you haven't earned yet. Don't complain. Hold on even when holding on seems impossible. This tone makes the message possible. It's better not to give in to the negative ways of the world, and you can emerge a stronger person for your struggle. You can come out of this with better character.

A second way Kipling develops this idea is through the poem's meter. The lines follow a pattern of 11 syllables followed by 10 syllables. They are written in a predictable iambic pentameter, which also feeds into the message of the poem. Life is predictable too if you follow these guidelines for living. The poem is predictable as you move from one line to the next. The meter keeps the reader moving through the poem, much as the listener keeps moving through life's trials, with a sense of purpose in what will happen next.

Together with the other poetic devices, particularly repetition and anaphora, the speaker's message is made clear through the purposeful delivery.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In his inspiring poem, "If," Rudyard Kipling makes use of many rhetorical devices among which are anaphora, anastrophe, antithesis, assonance,climax, hendiadys, hyperbole, metaphor,personification,and syllepsis. 

Here are examples of these aforementioned rhetorical terms:

1.  Anaphora - The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines.  (This is been thoroughly covered by the previous poster)

2.  Anastrophe - Transposition of normal word order

"Yours is the Earth...."

3.  Antithesis - Opposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.  There are numerous examples of this

"If all men count with you, but none too much"

4.  Assonance - The repetition of the same sound in words close to each other.

"And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise"

5.  Climax - Arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in an order of ascending power.  Often the last emphatic word in one phrase or clause is repeated as the first emphatic word of the next.

The last stanza exemplifies this term.  The poem is very moving because of this build-up.

6.  Hendiadys - Use of two words connected by a conjunction, instead of suordinating one to the other, to express a single complex idea.

There are numerous examples of this term, as well.  Here is one:  "Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch"

7. Hyperbole - Exaggeration for emphasis or for rhetorical effect

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/'Or walk with Kings- nor lose the common touch"

8. Metaphor - Implied comparison achieved through a figurative use of words

"Twisted by knaves (metaphor for people of low character) to make a trap for fools"

9. Personification -  Attribution of personality to an impersonal thing

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster"

10.  Syllepsis - The use of a word with two others, each of which is understood differently.

"If you can dream - and not make dreams your master"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I would say that the use of repetition is one way in which Kipling is able to get his message across to the reader.  The idea of being able to suggest to the listener of the poem how one can "be a man" through a series of operational definitions is effective.  Kipling illustrates situations where the listener could find themselves.  These situations are ones in which conflict is experienced and the essence of the idea is to be able to make a choice.  One of the choices is easier than the other, but the lesson of maturity is only learned when the more difficult of the two paths is selected.  The repetition of the word "If" in addressing the various situations helps to bring the idea that choices and contexts are conditional.  Individuals must be able to have the intestinal fortitude and wherewithal to face them and be able to make the right choices in terms of progressing on the path of maturation and character development.  In reciting these to the reader/ listener with the constant use of the conditional in them helps to reinforce the attempt at universality in the poem.

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